Startup Weekend means business for brave ideas

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It wouldn’t be a wild notion to think that — in 54 hours — a group of entrepreneurs, who may or may not know each other, could pitch, develop and launch a startup company.

In fact, that is the goal, says local entrepreneur Nick Lee.

Lee and his brother Ian Lee are organizing Startup Weekend Colorado Springs in April. In one weekend, local entrepreneurs will pitch their best business ideas and then spend two days developing, building and launching a startup. At the end of the weekend, a panel of judges will decide which team created the best startup.

No doubt it sounds like a crazy idea, said Marc Nager, CEO of Startup Weekend, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that helps organize Startup Weekends around the world. But since Startup Weekend began in 2007, there have been 5,000 startups created.

“It’s been nothing short of mind-blowing,” Nager said.

Startup Weekend was launched by Andrew Hyde in Boulder and quickly was duplicated in other cities. In 2009, Nager and a business partner bought the program, moved it to Seattle and converted it to a nonprofit. Since then, there have been nearly 700 Startup Weekends across the globe, including one this weekend in Tehran, Iran.

“It engages the entire stack of the ecosystem — investors, professors, students, entrepreneurs, serial entrepreneurs — and it’s built around action,” Nager said.

The Lee brothers recently attended Startup Weekend Denver and began planning a similar event for the Springs. For the past two years, they have been part of a group of local entrepreneurs working on growing a vibrant entre-preneurial community through events like Pitch Night and coffee meetings and guest speakers.

“We were so energized and inspired by the Denver event last October that we knew we had to bring a Startup Weekend to Colorado Springs as soon as possible,” said Ian Lee, a board member of Startup Colorado Springs and co-organizer of Startup Weekend Colorado Springs.

The winning Denver startup was born from an entrepreneur who was walking his dog in the rain and noticed neighborhood sprinklers were on. His team built a product that controlled the home sprinkler system on the Web and was tied to the local weather forecast. The product was fully functional by the end of the weekend.

At Startup Weekend, anyone can make a 60-second pitch. The crowd votes on the best and begins to form teams around the idea they are drawn to, said Nick Lee. An estimated 36 percent of the startups created during a Startup Weekend are still going three months later, and 80 percent of the participants have said they plan to stay with their newly formed team.

“The energy is absolutely amazing all through the whole weekend,” said Nick Lee, Peak Venture Group board member and co-organizer of Startup Weekend Colorado Springs.

Startup Weekend is a chance to see the steps it takes to get a startup off the ground, he said. Often, entrepreneurs get too focused on raising money for their venture. They miss important steps like design and marketing and search engine optimization for their landing page.

“It’s a great crash-course in taking a company from idea stage to viable product,” he said. “The amount of knowledge gained over the three days is astonishing.”

Nager said Startup Weekend is a logical model because it taps into passion.

“How often do we get to talk about what fuels us?” he said. “The worst-case scenario is someone says, ‘entrepreneurship is not for me,’ which is still a huge success.”

Yet, 70 percent of the people who leave Startup Weekend will incorporate a company within one year, Nager said.

“There is no collection of people who will be as passionate that will force you to dive in and experience something like this,” he said. “It’s a huge difference to talk about it than to go through the throes of it — real companies do come out of it.”

Startup Weekend Colorado Springs

When: April 12-14

Where: Epicentral co-working space, 409 N. Tejon St.

Cost: $75 before March 12; $99 after; students pay $50.

Register: coloradosprings.startupweekend.org